Final Thoughts on a Fantastic Trip

After a loooong flight back to California, we’re catching our breath at a friend’s home in Camarillo.  Looking back on our African experience, we realize we have memories we’ll carry with us forever.

You’ve read about our non-stop schedule, and you’ve seen many of the animals and birds we encountered.  But there were many social experiences also.

For one thing, we were constantly eating!  We always had a breakfast at the camp prior to our early morning game drive,  And a lunch usually at camp after the morning drive.  And a dinner there after the evening game drive.

But we never had a chance to get hungry.  All of our drivers routinely scheduled bush snacks, afternoon “tea”, sun-downer cocktail hours, etc.  Sometimes, we had more “formal” outdoor meals.  And when we had an evening activity away from camp, we had to have a special permit and armed rangers.

Here are some of the food-related activities:

But in addition to these “normal” food activities, John and London O’Regan were determined to help us celebrate our 55th wedding anniversary – over and over again!  The first surprise was at One Nature Camp in central Serengeti.  When we got home from a game drive, there was a table set up for a romantic dinner on our back veranda.  The camp manager really got into executing the O’Regans’ wishes and had two Masai light candles around our back area and start a full-on fire.  Herry was quite the director, as you can see from the photos he took:

Our last night in central Serengeti, the whole group was transported down the road a bit where we had a fireside chat and dinner.  

One portion of the celebration included John “marrying” us in the traditional Masai way of wrapping a red Shuka around the two of us.  However, this ceremony is not official until the groom pays 10 or 12 (or ???) cows for his bride.  So I guess that ceremony didn’t take for us!

Then, in Kenya, we returned “home” one night to find the table on our veranda decorated for another romantic dinner for two:

We have travelled with John and Diana for years, and now we have the pleasure of also travelling with their son, London.  What a wonderful family, and very special travel agents.  If you ever need help with your travel, don’t hesitate to contact San Simeon Travel, located in the heart of Cambria, California.  Drop me a note and I’ll sing their praises for you!

Final Thoughts on a Fantastic Trip

Out of Africa

Our final safari day started with a morning game drive.  I never got a good photo of the ostriches, but I thought you might be interested anyway.

The black one on the left is the male and the light one on the right is the female.  The male has a harem of females, and as I understand it, the primary female lays the first egg in the center of the nest and the remaining females lay their eggs around that center egg.  The last one to lay an egg shares incubation duties with the male, and their coloring helps protect the nest, which is on the ground.  The female sits on the eggs during the day, when her color is the best camouflage, and the male sits during the evening, when his color is the best camouflage.  So, it is not unusual to see a female ostrich with 20 – 24 baby chicks, but she didn’t lay all those eggs herself!

After lunch and a Masai lecture, we took our last bush flight.  Before the plane can take off (or land) here, a truck goes up and down the dirt runway chasing wild animals away.  There is a grim reminder of the danger – there is still a carcass of a plane which had landed when a wildebeest darted back into its path.  No people were killed, but it had to be horrifying.

Our bush flight took us to Nairobi where we went to dinner at The Carnivore, which offers all kinds of wild game dishes for those who are adventurous.  We sat in an outdoor area, where the monkeys were obviously used to darting down to steal food.

Finally, we were taken to the international airport for the first of two long flights home.  Here’s a shot of several bags belonging to our group after we had had them shrink-wrapped for extra security.

Next post will summarize the social highlights of the vacation.

Moving to the Masai Mara

Another bush flight brought us to our final segment of the safari vacation: Kenya.  The maps show an overview of Kenya as well as the location of our final camp, Bateleur Camp, in relation to the prior two camps in Tanzania.

The last map also shows how the Serengeti National Park extends into Kenya as the Masai Mara Game Reserve.  Same ecosystem, different country.

Our camp (as before) is rather luxurious:

The Mara River affects the landscape in this part of the country – heavily wooded areas line the river, while the Savanah looks very similar to what we saw in Tanzania.  And from the top of the escarpment above our camp you can look out over the Great Rift Valley.

The migration hasn’t reached here yet, but we visited one of the main crossing points on the Mara – with crocodiles in wait:

Highlights of other animals:

The Leading Edge of the Great Migration

One of the reasons for including Tanzania and Kenya in our safari vacation was to witness the Great Migration.  Normally, our timing should have had us viewing the animals at the peak of the migration, but Mother Nature fooled us!

The reason all these animals migrate all at the same time is because their food becomes more scarce as the rains stop and the vegetation dries out. This year, the rains lasted later than average, so the grasses remained green and the migration was delayed.

However, we did get to see the leading edge of the migration on an all-day drive into the southern sector of Tanzania.  The zebras and wildebeests were starting to gather in larger groups as they headed north.

Zebras are one of my favorite animals, but it was difficult to capture the long strings of animals with my cell phone.  You can see, though, that they didn’t hesitate to cross the road in-between our vehicles.  I guess not much deters them at this time.

The wildebeest were a little easier for me to capture.  It was really amazing to sit in our vehicle while the herds swarmed around us!

Aside from the migrating animals, here are some animal highlights from the central Serengeti.  

There were some social highlights too, but I’ll save those for a separate post at the end of the vacation.  Next post will introduce you to our Kenyan experience in the Masai Mara.

Central Serengeti Landscapes

Not too many animals in this post, but I wanted you to see the varied landscapes in the central Serengeti:


More animals in the next post!

Into the Heart of the Serengeti

On Tuesday, May 25th, we took another bush flight to the Seronera Air Strip and went to the One Nature tented camp in the heart of the Serengeti.  These were not tents as we usually think of them…  Each “tent” had sort of a living area, the bedroom area, the copper bathtub area, both indoor and outdoor showers, and a marvelous veranda looking out over the Serengeti.  Hot and cold running water – and a chandelier!  Here’s a map to show you our new home for four days:

The safari vehicles hold four people in comfy captain’s seats and unless the rain comes, they’re open, with beautiful viewing and photography opportunities.  They’re so modern that each seat has USB ports so you can charge your phone/camera!  This is our driver for the four days:

Since we arrived in the afternoon, we had only one game drive the first day, but it was magical.  First came the hippos:

Nearby, we saw a crocodile sunbathing and some storks.

Then came lionesses napping in a tree.  I understand that the Serengeti is the only place in the world where the lions have learned to climb trees, so these photos document an unusual behavior:

We think they must have learned the behavior by watching the leopards climb.  It seems like a good idea because it gets the lions up mostly out of the range of the nuisance flies, and it’s cooler up there where they get a little breeze.

You may have noticed that the terrain is different here than at Klein’s Camp.  I’ll show some landscape photos in the next post.

Highlights from Klein’s Camp

Sorry I’m so behind on my posts! To save time, this post will be mostly photos. We probably took more than a thousand photos of animals, but here are just a few of our favorites:

Egyptian geese

And, of course, there were non-animal highlights, from sunrise to sunset, with a visit to a Masai village:

Tomorrow, we move to the center of the Serengeti, to see the leading edge of the Great Migration! See you in the next post!

From the Rainforest to the Serengeti

Last Friday (May 21, 2021) was a travel day.  From the rainforest in northeast Rwanda, we travelled to the northern Serengeti in Tanzania for a more traditional safari experience.  

The following maps show an overview of Tanzania and a close-up of our first stay at Klein’s camp.

There is quite a difference between the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Northwest Rwanda, and Klein’s Camp in northern Tanzania.  For example, our elevation dropped from 8,600 feet to approximately 5,000 feet (much easier to breathe!) Many of the trees and flowers are different, as are many of the animals.  I expected a much dryer environment, but it was amazingly green because they have had some rain recently.  

We left the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Rwanda and were driven back into the big city of Kigali for an international flight to Arusha, where we caught a bush plane to Lobo Air Strip.

In case you haven’t been on a bush flight, let me tell you it is very small!  We were a group of 12, and these photos show us boarding and then how tight the quarters are inside. But it was a smooth and short flight.

It was a pleasant flight, and we were able to fly over an “active” volcano crater where the most recent center eruption was frozen!  When we landed, our new guides met us with our safari vehicles – but first they fed us a nice bush snack.  

Then we were divided up 6 to a vehicle and started what could probably be an hour drive to Klein’s camp, but we kept running into attractive animals:

When we finally got to camp, the whole staff met us, singing and dancing!

Here’s our home for the next 3 nights plus the view from our wonderful veranda.

We’re having a wonderful time, but a safari vacation is not a piece of cake.  The schedule at this point is a wake-up call at 6 or 6:30 am, breakfast — then on the road by 7 or 7:30.  We bump over rugged dirt roads until about 1 or 2 pm and have lunch as soon as we get back.  This meal takes about 2 hours, so we don’t have much time to clean up or rest before the next game drive starts at 4 pm.  We get “home” in time for dinner about 7:30 and if we’re lucky we get to bed about 11 pm.

Although the Lobo Air Strip is in the Serengeti National Park, our camp is just outside of the Park.  The land is leased from the Masai lords and many of the camp employees are Masai.  Therefore, we don’t have the same restrictions as in the Park:  we can drive off road and we can drive at night, when the animals are most active.

Serious game drives will start in the next blog.  In the meantime, here’s a dwarf mongoose and family who visited just outside our veranda.  

Stay tuned for highlights of our game drives in coming blogs!

Gorillas in the Mist

On Wednesday, we were taken by van from Kigali to the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Northwest Rwanda, just outside the Volcanoes National Park.

These monkeys were our first wildlife sighting.
Typical mode of transportation, although men often used bicycles.

Here are two shots of our arrival at the Lodge:

After independence, the small African nation of Rwanda leaped to fame as the Land of “Gorillas in the Mist”, adopted home of Dian Fossey and the most important refuge for the rare mountain gorilla.

Tonight we had instructions about proper behavior around the gorillas, and we’ll leave for our gorilla trek early in the morning. The mountain Gorillas live in and near the Volcanos National Park which is roughly where I’ve drawn the red oval. It also extends into Uganda and theCongo, but were were only in Rwanda.

I admit, it was a difficult hike, but it was SO worth it.  Our group was split up so that only 4 tourists accompanied each guide and guard.  We were assigned porters to carry our backpacks (GREAT IDEA!) And in some cases porters had to machete a path through the jungle and they often helped pull us out of the mud.  I could not have made it without the porters.  And, of course, this sometimes steeps hike was at about 8,600 feet!  

The gorilla family we got so see was pretty large – probably 22 animals.  It was the “heat” of the day so it was basically naptime for the family.  Here are some of the members we got to see up close and personal:

Even though they were napping, the gorillas were curious about us. Many foraged for food, the youngsters played just like young humans, and the Silverback was mostly aloof. When our time was up with the gorillas, the porters had to hack a new path through the jungle because we kept running into napping gorillas!

By the way, the guide and other personnel were not concerned about us wearing our masks while hiking, which was a good thing for breathing at altitude and exercising so strenuously.  However, when we got close to the gorillas, they were very serious about everyone masking up to protect these rare animals.  

Once we got back to our lodge, some of us had planned to go to the village to shop in the afternoon, but it was pretty late in the afternoon, and we were all pooped! We were called down to the main building for a special surprise at 5:30.  

Jay and I started down the stairs, but it started to rain, so we went back to grab an umbrella.  (We said our thanks that it hadn’t rained during the gorilla trek!)  When we got to the designated meeting place we saw a group of local young musicians and dancers running through the down pour.  This was their first paid gig since Covid, and it had to pour on them.  They were real troupers though and danced and sang their hearts out – in the rain!  Check out the smiles:

These amazing people were all from the local village, and they were proud to show us many of their traditional dances.  What a treat!

The next day begins our journey from Rwanda to Tanzania.  Give me a few days to catch up.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN…RATHER, IN THE AIR AGAIN! (May 16, 17 and 18, 2021)

Well, we’re on our way!

We’re fortunate to have business class seats on Qatar Airlines, and when we’re ready, the crew will  make our seats into beds and we can close the doors and have a private little room.  (No, the “walls” don’t go up to the ceiling, so we still have to be masked.)  This leg of the trip is a 15+ hour flight.  Then we have an 8-hour layover in Doha, Qatar,  where we have a day room in the airport transit hotel.  Next will be a 5-hour flight to Entebbe, Uganda, and a final one-hour flight to our destination:  Kigali, Rwanda.

Our three-week trip will find us in Rwanda, then Tanzania, and finally Kenya.  Here’s map that shows the location of these three countries.

So, while we’re flying, let me go over some background:

First, we’re traveling during a pandemic.  We (and all the other travelers in our tour group) are fully vaccinated.  Even so, we had to show the airline a negative covid test before boarding, and we will be tested again upon arrival in Rwanda, again when we leave Rwanda, again when we arrive in Tanzania, as well as when we arrive in Kenya, and finally before boarding for the flight home.  We’ll all be required to wear masks everywhere, and it feels very safe.  I’ll be glad to see the last of the tests, though!

Second, here’s a close-up of Rwanda.

The dot in the center is Kigali, where we land, get tested and get quarantined in the Hotel Milles des Collines (meaning “thousand hills”) until our test results come back. (We’re expecting a day and one night). This hotel became famous after 1,268 people took refuge inside the building during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.  It is the actual hotel featured in the book and film “Hotel Rwanda.”  However, the story portrayed by the film is fiction and does not describe the real events that occurred back then.

Here are a couple of shots of the hotel once we were cleared and able to walk around.  

Kingali is a city of 3 million people but there is lots of green due to the humid weather.
There’s a memorial to victims of the genocide on the grounds of the hotel.
The first of our group met for dinner tonight. We’ll meet the rest tomorrow.

Next time, we’ll post about the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge and our Gorilla trek!  Stay tuned for what I hope will be amazing photos!